Have we as soap fans become so browbeaten by years of dissatisfaction with writers, producers and executives that we no longer expect for good things to happen? Have we become so disenchanted that when a soap throws us even the tiniest bone, we latch onto it like a starving dog? Have TPTB so successfully manipulated us by playing into our passions for our favorite couples that we now ignore the bigger picture as long as our couple is on the front burner? Are we giving TPTB a get-out-of-jail-free-card by not holding them up to a higher standard of excellence? These are just a few of the things I've found myself asking more and more as of late.
Soap opera fans have plenty of reasons to be downtrodden. The year 2008 was a terrible one for the daytime television industry, with only a few exceptions such as One Life to Live's strong year, the resurgence of quality at The Young and Restless and almost everything related to General Hospital: Night Shift.
In an era when CBS is slashing licensing fees for their soaps; Deidre Halland Drake Hogestynhave been fired from Days of Our Lives, which was only picked up for 18 months; Susan Lucci and the rest of ABC daytime's stable of actors are being forced to take a pay cut; the 72-year-old Guiding Light allegedly needs a consistent 1.8 to survive; and the nation's automakers, a primary daytime advertiser, are experiencing serious economic woes, things aren't looking very good for the genre or its fans. The fact that the industry still lives and dies based on the screwed up calculations of the Nielsen ratings doesn't help matters. It's easy to understand why soap fans are so desperate to hang on to whatever scraps of history, dignity and romance we can manage to locate on our favorite soaps.
The past few weeks have provided a fascinating insight into how we as soap fans have become accustomed to reacting when something happens to one of our favorite couples, characters or actors. Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) finally had sex on As the World Turns. The long-awaited consumation lasted a measly 75 seconds. The blink-and-you-missed-it (Thank God for You Tube!) moment received zero promotion from CBS, Proctor and Gamble or TeleNext Media. The struggling soap seemed perfectly content to let the moment be swept under the rug, instead of using the opportunity to garner mainstream and/or alternative media exposure. A quick look across the web will tell you that diehard Nuke fans really didn't care that their couple's first time experience wasn't promoted. They are just happy to know it happened at all, and understandably feel a sense of fulfillment.
Jamey often says that all that matters is good writing and in the purest sense this is true, however when a show is in the shape that As the World Turns finds itself in ratings-wise, and the writing desperately lacking in quality, the only thing that is left is to promote the few assets it has left. As the World Turns has no bigger asset than Nuke. While the soap opera's veteran actors are beloved, it is believed by many industry insiders that the Nuke pairing is what kept As the World Turns stable in the ratings for much of 2007-08, not to mention the buzz factor the couple generated. TeleNext and CBS Daytime's PR blew what could have been an incredible opportunity, and we the fans let them because we were so focused on instant gratification.
P&G's other soap, Guiding Light, spent most of 2008 promoting a "revolutionary" new filming format instead of improving it's writing and promoting it's biggest strengths: Bill and Lizzie and Josh and Reva. They also denied rumors for months that Olivia and Natalia might end up being a couple. Instead of capitalizing on the LGBT audience's hunger to see their stories told on their favorite soaps, Guiding Light waited until they had nothing else to lose and pulled a last ditch stunt to boost interest in the show.
All of a sudden, news of Otalia kissing popped up on the covers of soap magazines, and previews were available as embeddable promos. Why is it that a "lesbian" kiss gets promos and no one blinks an eye, yet at the same time, Nuke is marginalized? Why are we not holding As the World Turns and P&G accountable for not giving a long-term couple like Nuke the simplest of promotion, when GL's Otalia is now all of the sudden being pimpedf? Do we really want to wait for As the World Turns to reach the precipice Guiding Light now finds itself on before we demand more from this soap?
Almost the exact opposite problem exists at ABC, which loves to promote anything and everything, except what is actually clicking with fans. When they do actually provide promotions about couples and storylines their maligned fans care about, it is usually timed with some Sweeps stunt.
The return of Angie (Debbi Morgan) and Jesse (Darnell Williams) to All My Children last year was magical and lasted for days, not 75 seconds. Unfortunately, TPTB failed to follow through on the initial storyline. Now the iconic couple is simply moved around like chess pieces. Imagine if All My Children had used their return as an opportunity to build an African-American family that could rival the Winters family on The Young and the Restless? We know that African-American's are a large segment of the soap audience, but apparently their ad dollars aren't needed.
All My Children's use of Eden Riegel's wonderful Bianca has also been painful to watch. ABC always promotes the hell out of each and every one of Bianca's returns, but more often than not the character ends up constantly reacting to everyone elses actions, instead of driving story herself. Ask yourself, was the Zarf storyline about Bianca or Zarf? Was Bianca's rape about Bianca or was it intended to prove how terrible Michael Cambias was and how heroic Erica and Kendall could be? What was the real purpose of Babe kidnapping Miranda? Was it to give Bianca a storyline or was it for Babe to become the show's lead antiheroine? Even her current storyline has Bianca playing the victim. The storyline featuring Binks' love affair with Reese has been more about Reese's connection to Zach from day one. Why does All My Children continue to use Bianca to pull in ratings (You didn't really think it was the CGI tornado?), only to make her a supporting character?
General Hospital isn't much better. It perfected the giant Sweeps stunt and no one can say they don't promote their Madison Avenue postacards. Unfortunately, outside of Sweeps ABC's most popular soap rarely does umbrella storylines that actually utilize the soap's talented cast.
Some have accused Daytime Confidential of having a bias towards Steve Burton and Rebecca Herbst's Liason. While it is true the majority of DC bloggers who watch General Hospital prefer Liason over JaSam, have both fanbases become so obsessed with seeing their couple together, that we've all ignored that it is in the best interest of both sides and the show for TPTB to write a compelling triangle for their most argued over trio?
This brings us to the recently renewed Days of Our Lives, NBC's lone soap.While the oustings of Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn will go down as one of the most unspeakable, unseemly acts in daytime history, what's even worse is the shameful way in which their iconic characters, Marlena and John, are being written out. As Jamey pointed out on DC podcast episode No. 350, legions of John and Marlena fans will tune in to watch their favorite couple ride off into the sunset, yet instead of a storybook ending worthy of their legend, they are getting a paralyzed John, a hospital wedding and a few flashbacks. I know Corday thinks his actors are "spokes on a wheel", but what about the fans who have made him a millionaire several times over? Don't we deserve better?
I don't know that I or anyone else for that matter has the answers to all of the questions I posed in this article, but the more I look about daytime's landscape I realize someone had better figure these things out, and fast.